Is copywriting an art or a science?

August 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

Just read a really interesting article on copywriting by Samuel Palin. A lot of it is filled with fairly anecdotal evidence, not to mention half a column on the brilliant quoting from Don Quixote, but it was the closing ideas that really struck a chord with me. He ends with an idea that questions whether copywriting is an art or a science, or whether as so many people tend to ignore, it is a combination of the two.

It’s an interesting debate.

In my last semester of uni, I (in hindsight, stupidly, as it pulled my whole degree average down) took a module studying the power of language, and how langauge is manipulated in the media, in politics and most interesting for me, in advertising. We were lectured on how to spot linguistic constructs used to position the reader or listener in a certain way, which began to make it seem very much like a science. In fact, I wrote a (fairly decent) essay comparing the differing methods of persuasion in the Oxfam and Race for Life websites, which revolved almost entirely on how they addressed the reader. I collected data, I read and reread raw material, I highlighted like crazy and by the end of the essay, forgot that I was even studying English, I was so overwhelmed by numbers, calculations and graphs.

Language had become a science.

But then on finishing university, I went straight into working as a copywriter for 5 weeks at Euro RSCG. Obviously, this is about being creative, and whilst I’ve always been good at writing and using language, the science side of it threw me off. I could debate the merits of using “your city”, “the city” or “our city” for as long as I liked, but ultimately it would be what  sounded best, read best and just seemed to feel right, not where I was positioning the reader.

So the debate continues….

It’s pretty easy, from an academic perspective, to apply a set of linguistic rules to a collection of adverts, and not see it as something emotive or creative, but something based on reader position, pronoun usage and repitition of ideas. Obviously all that science-y stuff does play a part, but having been on both sides of the debate, I’m leaning towards it being an art form.

Like Samuel’s article suggests, it is important to know strategy and have more planning-like insights to frame our ideas, but I would argue that ultimately this “science” is only ever a framework for creativity. And sometimes, that creativity works just as brilliantly outside of the frame…

Do I think that one science-y language module made me a better writer? No.

Did I win a placement at a top London advertising agency after finishing the module? Yes.

Art or science? I guess we’ll never know…




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§ One Response to Is copywriting an art or a science?

  • I think copywriting is both an art and a science. It is a science to write for seo purposes and an art to make it readible for humans.

    I think a good copywriter is an artist with the science of words.

    Thanks for this post, you got me thinking…


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